Mumbai in a day
Head to Crawford Market for fruit and veg, and a chaotic shopping experience. (Anders Blomqvist/LPI)
Mumbai is big. It is full of dreamers and hard-labourers, actors and gangsters, stray dogs and exotic birds, artists and servants, fisherfolk and crorepatis (millionaires). It has the most prolific of film industries, one of Asia’s biggest slums and the largest tropical forest in an urban zone. It is India’s financial powerhouse and fashion capital. It has evolved its own language, Bambaiyya Hindi, which is a mix of… everything. With so much going on, you will need a plan to get a sense of the city in just one day.
The quintessential day in Mumbai starts when your train pulls into the iconic CST (also known as Victoria Terminus), your first taste of the city’s grand and imposing Victorian-fusion architecture. This is perhaps the world’s finest railway station and it is Mumbai’s largest public building. An architectural gem and symbol of the city’s prosperity, the station is also an engineering marvel, with an astounding ensemble of statues, carvings, stained glass and embellishments that took 10 years to complete. Other notable, not-to-miss architectural gems in Mumbai are the Haji Ali mosque, St Thomas’ Cathedral and Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue.
If you arrive early enough, head straight to Sassoon Dock in Colaba. Here you will find an early-morning scene of intense and pungent activity when colourfully clad Koli fisherwomen sort the catch being unloaded from fishing boats at the quay.
Mumbai is India’s great marketplace, with some of the best shopping in the country. Throw yourself straight into it at Crawford market. Another icon of British Bombay, the Norman-Gothic exterior covers a magical selection of stalls. Sample a sweet mango in the fruit and vegetable section then admire the quirky antiques and Raj-era bric-a-brac in Chor Bazaar. Mangaldas Market, traditionally home to traders from Gujarat, is a great place to browse for Indian textiles and silks.
Next, head to Oval Maidan in South Mumbai, where India’s cricket obsession played out in a uniquely Mumbai setting: palm trees, blocks of flats and grandiose colonial buildings. The High Court, inspired by a German castle, and the University of Mumbai, resembling a 15th-century French-Gothic triumph, are the stars of this setting. Make sure you go inside the High Court to see the pageantry of the court proceedings – you are allowed and we highly recommend it.
Girguam Chowpattty is the next stop for a late-afternoon amble along a beautiful swathe of sand edged by sparkling (if toxic) sea and backed by the Mumbai skyline. It is fantastic for people-watching while munching on the famous Mumbai bhelpuri (fried, savoury rounds of dough). If you happen to be here during the Ganesh Chaturthi festival (in August/September) you will experience glorious colour and mayhem as huge effigies of the elephant god are dunked into the sea.
Finish the day with another sumptuous meal. You can dine like a maharaja in Mumbai’s restaurants; as one of India’s gastro-epicentres you can find cuisines from all over India, from Parsi to South Indian, plus international trends. Afterwards, take a stroll along the Colaba foreshore. You will pass the Gateway of India arch and the Taj Mahal Palace, still impressive and a testament to Mumbai’s resilience following the 2008 attacks.
As the sun sets, stop at one of Mumbai’s many drinking establishments – from hole-in-the-wall beer bars and chichi lounges, to brash, multilevel super clubs. Try Leopold’s Café, of Shantaram fame and a Mumbai travellers’ institution.